Vista PC Build – The Results

NSK2480 case Well, I put all the parts together and have Vista running on the PC. There’s plenty of info about putting a PC together already on the net so I’m not going to get into the details.

The case had plenty of room so getting the motherboard and drives in wasn’t a problem. The cover is held on by one thumbscrew but it fits securely and is easy to remove. The only hitch I had was the lack of an available SATA power connector for the DVD reader so I had to order a molex to sata power cable.

I used the Intel supplied cooler and sure enough, as others have described it seems pretty cheap. I’ll monitor the temperature to see how it does. So far heat isn’t an issue. The PC has been running for over 24 hours (although not doing much more than idling) and the cpu temperature is 13°C which is well under the 73.2°C maximum for the E2180 cpu. In fact, my biggest complaint so far is that with the computer sitting to the left of my desk the fans are blowing cold air towards me. If things stay cool I may pull the power on the fans or replace them with the panels supplied with the case.

The PC is quiet as promised. Because the PC sits at desk level and the fans blow towards me I do hear the sound of them running a bit. It’s more the sound of the air moving than hearing a motor run.

Even though I’d read that Windows Vista couldn’t be installed from a SATA drive (in some cases) I had to give it a try. Out of the box it wouldn’t boot the DVD. Rather than fiddle with the BIOS I just hooked up a spare IDE drive. Eventually I’ll return to the problem and tinker with the BIOS.

The actual Vista install went off without a hitch. I didn’t time it since I went away for the bulk of the install where it was extracting a copying files. But when I returned expecting it to be done it was. It was less than 30 minutes. Whether it was 10 or 20 minutes less I couldn’t say.

The Vista install didn’t have drivers for the on-board video so it used the standard VGA drivers until I installed the drivers from Zotac once the installation was finished.

The Acer monitor that I have has three video in ports, a HDMI, VGA and a DVI port. The DVI port is connected to my iMac as a second monitor. I decided to try connecting the new PC up via an HDMI port since the motherboard had an onboard HDMI port. This is where I had the first real problem. The video quality stinks and is distorted. It’s bad even when the BIOS screens are displayed so it’s unlikely that Vista is the problem. Even so, I played around with BIOS and driver settings for awhile without success. Unfortunately I don’t have a second HDMI cable or output device to narrow down the problem.

The HDMI port problem isn’t a huge issue, although it would be nice to know if it’s a hardware problem while the hardware is still under warranty. I don’t plan on having a monitor attached to the Vista machine on a regular basis and if I do need one I can use the VGA cable.

I’m using Microsoft’s Remote Desktop for Mac to connect into the Vista machine. Since they’re on the same switch performance should be good. No complaints yet but I haven’t stressed the system at all.

I had a second Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB hard drive so I decided to install it and try out the RAID on the motherboard. Using the “Windows Experience” number after a fresh Vista install there wasn’t a performance difference between the motherboard raid and a single hard drive. Both returned a score of 5.9. When configured for RAID I had to load the RAID drivers (from the motherboard driver CD) in order for Vista to see the drives and install. The driver auto detect didn’t work and I had to browse to the Vista 64 drivers but once they were loaded everything was fine. Since I want the hard drive for my Windows Home Server I ended up removing the second drive.

Speaking of the Windows Experience score, here’s the score once the install was finished and the latest drivers were in place. It’s not surprising that the on-board video is the limiting component.

ExperienceScore

The results from CPU-Z are shown in the following screenshots. Click the thumbnail to see them full size.

CPU-Z cpu  CPU-Z cache  CPU-Z mainboard CPU-Z memory  CPU-Z spd slot 1 CPU-Z spd slot3

So, it’s been running for about two days without incident (such as bursting into flames). Time to start installing some software.

Vista PC Build – Parts and Planning

ANTEC_NSK2480_q We won’t talk about how long it’s been since I built a computer, but let’s just say that the ATX form factor probably wasn’t even a twinkle in some engineer’s eye at the time. I’ve been eager to get back into it and also get a relatively low cost Windows computer that I could tinker with. Another thing I remember from those old days is value is more important than rock-bottom cost, cheaply made parts extract payment way beyond their price. So here are my requirements for this computer:

  • Quite – it will be located near my desk in my office so it must be quiet.
  • Power efficient – I’m not looking to build a low power PC, but keeping power usage (and therefore the electric bill) in line are important.
  • Easy to reconfigure – this is something I’m likely to revisit to try different hardware configurations or use for testing hardware. For example, flashing the BIOS in my Seagate drive requires a computer that only has the drive hooked up to it. This should easily accommodate that.
  • Run Vista 64-bit

So without further delay, here are the parts I picked. See the commentary below the parts list.

Qty Part Cost
1 Antec New Solution NSK2480 MicroATX Computer Case w/380W Power Supply $120
1 ZOTAC N73PV-Supreme LGA 775 NVIDIA GeForce 7100 HDMI Micro ATX Intel Motherboard $45
(now $50)
(before $10 rebate)
1 Intel Pentium E2180 Allendale 2.0GHz 1MB L2 Cache LGA 775 65W Dual-Core Processor $70
1 Crucial 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory $32
(now $40)
1 Western Digital Caviar Black WD1001FALS 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive $120
1 ASUS Black 18X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM SATA DVD-ROM $20
1 Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 64-bit for System Builders – OEM $170
(now $180)
1 SATA Serial ATA Power Cable – 6inch $0.85
Total Cost (Before Rebates) $578

 

There are some additional parts that will be needed for the build itself although they won’t be used on this computer once the build is done. Some, like a monitor, may be needed in your case.

 

Qty

Part

Cost

1 Monitor, I used a Acer H213H bmid Black 21.5″ 5ms HDMI Widescreen 16:9 Full HD 1080P LCD Monitor $190
1 IDE DVD Drive. Windows won’t install over a SATA DVD drive. I used a Sony Optiarc Black 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM IDE DVD-ROM $18
1 Keyboard – LITE-ON SK-1688U/B Black 104 Normal Keys USB Wired Standard Keyboard $7
1 Mouse – Microsoft N71-00007S Black 3 Buttons 1 x Wheel USB Wired Optical Wheel Mouse $10
1 25” Cat 6 Network Cable $3.59

 

Here’s the reasons I got the parts that I did…

Case – I wanted a well-built case that was easy to work with and was quiet. I didn’t want a tower. I was avoiding case/power supply combo at first because I didn’t want a potentially cheap power supply. In this case the power supply was a well regarded Antec Earthwatts EA380 380W power supply so I didn’t mind. The case is designed to be quiet and although pricey it’s not so bad considering that the power supply is included.

Motherboard – I wanted to go with an Intel chip. I simply sorted by price and went with the lowest priced motherboard that fit my needs. The motherboard comes with two SATA data cables, you’ll need to buy additional cables if you want to use the four SATA ports.

CPU – Again, I wanted Intel. I started with the lowest price dual-core CPUs and worked my way up until I got a CPU that I thought would give me snappy performance for my limited needs. The reviews I read regarded this CPU as having a good performance to price value. I’m going with the stock cooler even though Intel stock coolers are much derided. I will probably have to replace it but I want to use it awhile to see how it performs.

Hard Drive – I’m a fan of Western Digital drives, especially their green drives. I took it up a notch and went with a Caviar black for the performance.

RAM – I wanted 4GB of RAM and I’m a fan of the Crucial brand, never having had a problem with it. It’s also competitively priced without a significant premium for the brand.

Video – I’m going with on-board video for now even though I’m not a fan of it. I did buy a low cost video card but I’ll be needing it for the Windows Home Server build as that motherboard doesn’t have on-board video. Once the WHS build is done I’ll pop the card in to see if there’s a difference in performance.

Operating System – I debated between Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium and Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate. In Microsoft’s infinite idiocy they decided that remote access was a business feature and don’t include it in Home Premium. I decided to go with Vista Ultimate because I wanted the remote access (without having to go to a third party). Also, this gives me all the Vista features so if I want to try something I don’t have to worry about whether or not it’s included in my version.

SATA Power Cable – the case has two SATA power connectors, both on the same cable and designed to connect to the hard drives. I needed this connecter to modify a molex plug so that I could power the DVD reader.

DVD Reader – I went with a SATA connected DVD player because I wanted one in the house. As expected (based on my web reading) Vista wouldn’t install via SATA (the DVD wouldn’t boot). Playing with the BIOS might have resulted in the DVD becoming bootable but it was much easier to just hook up the spare IDE drive. It’s much easier to run the SATA data connector to the drive than it would have been to run the IDE ribbon cable so I like that and was worth the extra couple of bucks for the drive and power adapter.

Whenever possible I used OEM parts rather than retail. This means no packaging and in some cases no manuals or software although they are usually available on a website. It the case of Microsoft Vista it means Microsoft won’t provide phone support for the OS

That’s it for the parts. In the next installment I’ll let you know how the build went and how the PC integrates into the OSQuest data center.

For Me: Windows XP Out, Windows Vista In

Actually, it’s not as dramatic as the headline suggests. I’m still primarily a Mac user and my only Windows usage is in a virtual machine. I do very little in Windows (outside of my day job). There’s a couple Windows apps I like – AnyDVD and Windows Live Writer – and I also use it when I need IE. While I did install Vista on my iMac awhile back I never bothered to move over to Vista and actually start using it. This past weekend I fired up Vista, applied SP1 along with a bunch of other updates, installed the apps, and began using it.

I almost feel sorry for Microsoft (hard to actually feel sorry for a company that makes that much money) and think there’s been a lot of anti-Vista piling on. For example, Infoworld declared “partial victory” in their petition to save Windows for things Microsoft has done for several years (allow OS downgrades) and for things they already said they’d do (use XP on “low power” PCs – the ones that can’t run Vista). Let’s face it, Windows XP was derided when it was originally released and took a service pack before it really began to make inroads.

So I figured I’d spend more time in Vista to see if all the hate was justified.

I had one interesting problem that turned up when I missed a setting in Parallels. I ran Windows XP virtual machine in “bridged” network mode so that the virtual machine received it’s own IP addressed. When I moved to Windows Vista the virtual machine had the default setting of “Shared Networking”. I found that when the Vista VM was running I would eventually lose the network connection to my Windows Home Server from OS X. But Vista would still be able to connect to the server so there wasn’t any network or server problem. The problem went away when I switched to bridged network mode.

I figure Vista needs more memory so I’ve allocated 1GB to the VM where I ran XP with 768MB. I can’t really speak to speed comparisons since I also moved the VM to a faster hard drive. The software I use doesn’t stress the vm, Vista memory usage is about 50%. For what I do, no speed complaints so far.

So now that I have Vista let’s see if I learn to hate or love. (I suspect it’ll be neither.)

Windows Vista Warning

I’ve been spending more time using Vista and Internet Explorer. I’m still using default settings, at least the security related ones. While browsing to Arstechnica.com the screen went gray and the UAC popup appeared:

Now I think UAC is a good thing so I don’t want to just slam it. I’m guessing this was generated because there was a flash-based ad on the site. The ad didn’t display and using Firefox I saw it was a flash ad.

My problem here is the message is useless. I didn’t start the action, all I did was browse to the website. The message is pretty meaningless – IE wants to install an add-on. So, since I trust Ars Technica do I install it? Could their site have been hacked? Could they be serving an ad with a trojan? Is this a drive-by install? (I clicked cancel)

The results was that after browsing the site awhile I received the message again but I also received the yellow bar that told me the Flash plug-in was needed. I installed the plug-in (by clicking the yellow bar) and the ad displayed and I haven’t received the UAC prompt again.

Yes, I could turn UAC off but that lowers security and eliminating the message isn’t a solution. I think it’s a good thing to let me know whenever something wants to install. But the message needs to be more descriptive. The yellow bar add-in warning tells me it’s Flash from Adobe, why can’t this?

Windows Vista Home Premium

While Vista isn’t new on the Quest I did add a new flavor, Windows Vista Home Premium. At $100 less than Vista Ultimate it seems to be the version to get. There are only a things Ultimate provides over Home Premium including Windows Complete Backup & Restore, Windows Fax and Scan, and Bitlocker disk encryption. I don’t care about any of those but there is one thing that Windows Vista Home Premium won’t give me, and that’s Remote Access through Windows Home Server. I’m installing this in a virtual machine on my MacBook so remote access to it through WHS is not something I need in this particular case. I’m more likely to use this as the remote PC than want to remote into it.  Microsoft should add Remote Access support to Vista Home Premium since it seems to be targeted at the same people as Windows Home Server – those with lots of audio and video media.

Installation on VMware Fusion 1.1.1

I used the New Virtual Machine Wizard to create the VM. The wizard is very straight-forward so I won’t bother to include screen shots of every step. I selected the following options (listed in the order they’re asked for in the wizard):

  • Operating System: Microsoft Windows
  • Version: Windows Vista
  • Name and Location – Save As: Vista Home Premium
  • Name and Location – Where: A directory I have on an external USB drive for VMs
  • Disk Size: 30GB
    I kept the default settings where disk space is only allocated when needed, so 30GB is a ceiling.
  • Easy Install used
    I entered an ID and password to be created. Since I use Windows Home Server this is the same ID/password created on the home server and the other Windows VMs I use. I also enter the product key. I also keep the default of making my Mac home folder accessible from the VM as read-only.

I let the virtual machine start immediately and install from DVD. Twenty minutes later I’m presented with the logon screen. Once I logon the VMware Tools install kicks off automatically. When they’re done the virtual machine reboots.

Post Install Setup & Configuration

Once the VM reboots and I logon the first thing to do is fix the sound driver. As the Fusion Release Notes indicate the sound driver needs to be updated:

When you install Microsoft Vista 32-bit edition in a VMware Fusion virtual machine, there is no sound output. To correct this problem, run Windows Update to update the sound driver from within Vista.

To update the sound driver in a VMware Fusion virtual machine running Windows Vista 32-bit edition:
1. In the virtual machine, from the Windows start menu, right-click Computer and select Properties.
2. In the left pane, under Tasks, select Device Manager.
3. When prompted for your permission to continue, click Continue. Windows displays the Device Manager.
4. Right-click the Multimedia Sound Adapter with a warning symbol (indicating that there is no driver) and select Update Driver Software.
5. At the prompt How do you want to search for driver software?, select Search automatically for updated driver software. Windows finds and installs the appropriate driver for your virtual sound card.
6. When you are prompted to restart, click Restart Now.
Sound should now work in your Microsoft Vista 32-bit virtual machine.

So I update the driver, reboot and test the sound which works fine.

The VMware Easy Install creates it’s own PC name (which is random so meaningless) and uses “Workgroup” as the workgroup. I change the PC name to match my naming convention and change the Workgroup to my home workgroup. Which needs another reboot.

Then it’s time to run Windows Update to get all the security patches so I go into Windows Update and tell it to check for updates. The first update I get is an update to Windows Update itself. Once that’s installed I check for updates again and there’s 45 updates totaling 105.3MB. (It really is time for SP1) I install those updates and there’s another reboot. I then configure Windows Update to download updates when they’re available but not install them.

I try to connect to my Windows Home Server software share so I can install the connector software but I can’t. I’m told “File Sharing & Discovery” is off so I say to turn it one. Then I’m asked if I want to change my network type to “Private” which is recommended if I’m at home or work, rather than turning File Sharing on for a public network. I click the selection to make the switch. I still can’t connect to the Share.

The VM is configured to use NAT networking with the host. I shut down the VM, change this to bridged in the virtual machine network properties (so the VM gets it’s own IP address), and restart the VM. Now I can connect to the share and install the Windows Home Server connector software. I do a backup once the connector software is installed. Also, changing the network to Bridged cause Vista Home Premium to see this as a new network so I made it a Private Network by selecting “Home Network” when prompted.

I haven’t done the activation yet. I’ll wait the 3 days allowed in case I find I need to re-install the VM.

Additional Software

I already installed the WHS connector software. Now it’s time to install AntiVirus software. I already use free versions of Avast and AVG on other VMs so I wanted to try something different on this one. I decided to go with Avira AntiVirus PersonalEdition Classic which is free for personal (non-commercial) use.I picked it mainly because I never used it before and wanted to see what it was like. Their full version (the one you pay for) rates high for virus detection.

Lastly, I use Windows Live Writer for creating blog posts and I find a couple other Windows Live offerings intriguing although I haven’t actually used them. So I run the Windows Live Installer and select the following installs:

  • Windows Live Sign-In Assistant
  • Windows Live Mail
  • Windows Live Photo Gallery
  • Windows Live Writer

Once these installs finish my Windows Vista Home Premium virtual machine is complete.

Summary

The virtual machine currently takes 11.8GB on disk although that can grow to 30GB if I add software and data. The installation took me about 3 hours although I wasn’t sitting there immediately responding to every prompt. The install probably would have been faster if I installed from a DVD image rather that a physical DVD and the time to download that 105MB of updates will vary depending on the Internet connection.

The VMware Easy Setup feature simplifies the setup even if it doesn’t get things exactly the way I want them. Changing the PC name and workgroup is a simple task.

List of Software Broken by Vista SP1

Microsoft has published a list of software that has problems with Windows Vista SP1. AntiVirus and security software makes up a big portion of the list. Most of the apps already have a solution of simply (hopefully simple that is) updating to the the latest version.

While it doesn’t help Vista’s reputation to have more incompatibilities the list is currently rather small and seems to contain software that puts it’s hooks into the OS. I have to say, makes running Windows in a VM even more attractive, just create a snapshot before the upgrade or save off a copy of the VM itself.

Windows Vista SP1 RTM

Windows Vista Service Pack 1 has been released to manufacturing. The roll-out to end-users will begin in mid-March although not everyone will see it then. Microsoft has identified some drivers that work fine in the gold release of Vista but do not work with SP1. So if Microsoft detects those drivers on your PC you won’t be offered the update automatically.

Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows has a Windows Vista SP1 FAQ with more information.

So, is the release of SP1 enough to improve Windows Vista’s reputation?

Update: Paul Thurrott thinks Microsoft may have shipped SP1 before it’s ready.

The OS Quest Trail Log #9

I spent the week dabbling in new software. Pixelmator is out of beta and available now so I looked at that. Still reminds me a lot of Photoshop Elements, lots of palettes. The so-called HUDs are really just transparent palettes. Both are nice but Acorn has more than I currently know how to use and the price is great ($40) so I decided to go with Acorn. Pixelmator is $59. I suspect they may keep leapfrogging each other in terms of features and ease of use and I doubt either would have been a bad choice. Eval versions are available for both. Jon Whipple has a comparison of Acorn, Pixelmator, iPhoto and Graphic Converter.

Also in the area of images, I’ve been using Xee. Xee is an image viewer & browser for the Mac. Xee opens up a directory and can be used to quickly scroll through all the images in that directory. Xee can also do some limited file management, conversions and can do a slide show. Xee is a free (donation-ware) app.

I’ve been using the MailPlane beta for a little over a week and now that pricing is available I just bought a copy of this great program. MailPlane is a desktop app that integrates with GMail on the web. It doesn’t move the mailbox locally, simply provides great integration. You can manage multiple GMail accounts in MailPlane which is a huge benefit. MailPlane also brings Mac Keyboard shortcuts to GMail, iPhoto integration and general ease of use. MailPlane has special pricing until the beta ends. Beta invites are still available.

I’ve also been looking a Mac software to do screen captures and demos. The two that pop to the top of the list are IShowU ($29) by ShinyWhiteBox and SnapZ Pro X ($69) from Ambrosia Software. Even though SnapZ Pro is more expensive it made a more favorable first impression. it also has more features and is able to do screenshots and movies. There’s eval versions of each. The iShowU eval adds a watermark to the videos. The SnapZ Pro X demo was used to make the video used for the tip father down in this post.

I’m still really liking the new Apple Aluminum USB keyboard after a full week of use.

Software Updates

Panic Transmit 3.6.1 contains several bug fixes. See the release notes for details. I use Transit to do some backups via Automator scripts. I always know when there’s a update because when I check the Mac in the morning the update notification usually causes the automator script to throw up an error. I could turn off update checks but I’d prefer an error one night over missing an update notification. I usually just make a note and tell Transmit to ignore it then do the update when I get a chance. As with any program that uses the keychain you’ll have to confirm access the first time the updated program runs. So, if you use automator scripts be sure to run the app after upgrading (wouldn’t you want to test it anyway?).

As already mentioned in this blog, there were several updates from Apple that I installed earlier in the week.

Tips

I was using Vista recently and went to do a “Start” -> “Run” to execute a program. In Windows XP I use the run box for everything from opening drives to running programs. So this was a problem that needed to be solved. There’s two ways around this. Use the <Windows key>-<R> key combo to display the run box whenever it’s needed (<Command>-<R> on a Mac under Parallels or VMWare) or change the setting to always display it on the menu. Here’s a QuickTime video tip showing how to change the run box setting.

Links & News

Microsoft’s stealth update doesn’t seem to be problem free. Windows Secrets is reporting that Microsoft’s secret update causes problems when doing an XP repair.

Apple had a bit of a manufacturing problem and shipped some MacBooks and MacBook Pros without Journaling enabled. They’ve released an update to remedy the situation.

Microsoft Home Server released an update a few days ago. Home Server seems like a really cool product, but is anyone selling them yet? Does seem like it’ll be a hard sell – a PC that sits off in a closet or someplace that you don’t actually sit at an use.

LifeHacker faced off Parallels and VMWare for Mac virtualization software to see which their readers voted for. The completely unscientific results have Parallels ahead with 53.4% of the votes. Another Lifehacker poll pitted Mozy against Carbonite. Mozy is ahead with 55.2% of the vote at this point.

Ars Technica has a good summary of Microsoft Vista Ultimate Extras fiasco.

1Passwd is available for 20% off through iSlayer. 1Passwd is a Password manager for the Mac. I don’t use it but I love the stuff iSlayer does (for free). They get a cut when it’s purchased through them so I figured I’d pass it along.

Parallels 3 Upgrade Checklist

I finally got around to updating my Parallels 2.5 installation to the latest Parallels 3. Parallels 3 has been out awhile and I’ll be installing build 4560. I’ll be upgrading Parallels on my iMac and have 5 virtual machines configured. I don’t have Boot Camp installed on my iMac.

I checked to see if there was an update to Parallels 2.5. There was an update available for download but I was on the recently released build 3212. I didn’t see any mention of needing the newer version to do the upgrade so I stayed at 3212.

The upgrade had the following basic steps:

  1. Be sure you have a Parallels 3 license key (or make a conscious decision to use the trial version). Version 2 license keys will not work.
  2. Backup your Mac. Also backup your VMs as they will be upgraded and cannot be downgraded if you decide to go back to the old version of Parallels.
  3. Downloaded Parallels 3 (83MB)
  4. Mount the downloaded disk image and run “Install Parallels Desktop.pkg”. A user guide along with other documentation is in the download. Click through the installation wizard – do a complete install. (3 minutes)
  5. Restart the Mac when prompted
  6. After the restart fire up Parallels Desktop. Enter the activation (license) key when prompted. (1 minute)
  7. Start the VM. For Windows you will be prompted with the typical Windows “Found New Hardware” messages. Cancel these. The Parallels Tools virtual CD will autorun and you’ll be asked what to do – run PTStart.exe. During the install you may received numerous unsigned driver warning messages (I received 5 on Vista, none on XP). Allow the driver to install. (5 minutes)
  8. Restart the VM when prompted. Upon the first startup a “SmartSelect Update” will run. The VM is scanned and the software is cataloged. Your time may vary. (4 minutes)

It took me 35 minutes to upgrade Parallels and my first VM. I repeated steps 7 and 8 for each additional Windows VM and each took about 8 minutes. Ubuntu didn’t require any additional time.

Additional Notes:

  • Windows Vista – numerous unsigned driver warnings. One “Found new hardware” message that had to be canceled.
  • Windows XP – several “Found New Hardware” messages that had to be canceled. No unsigned driver errors. Low video resolution warning on first reboot after upgrade. Had to set the video resolution after the upgrade.
  • Ubuntu – no Parallels Tools so no driver upgrade. During the shutdown the screen goes psychedelic and Parallels sees the shutdown as incomplete. This happened on both Ubuntu VMs. It should be noted that the Ubuntu install under Parallels 2 required a workaround.